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How to remove scratches from your car

There is no magic car scratch remover tool, but car scratch and dent repair can be simpler than you may first imagine.

It really sucks when you spot fresh scratches on your car, even if you aren't a hardcore petrol head. They're our second biggest investment after a house, so it is nice to keep them in good condition and fix scratches on car.

A scratch is basically an open wound in the paint where a foreign object has dragged along the surface and gouged the surface. How to remove scratches from car depends on how deep the damage is, as a paint scratch can be shallow or deep, and the scratch repair technique will depend on how far through the paint whatever scratched the car got.

There is no magic car scratch remover tool, but car scratch and dent repair can be simpler than you may first imagine. So how do you manage a car paint repair without going to a professional paint shop and paying thousands of dollars?

Every car scratch in your paint is different, so it is important to first study the damage marks and try to work out if it can be repaired at home, or if it will need professional help.

Minor scratch marks can be polished out using products which fill in the scratches and don't cost the earth. While old timers used to use toothpaste on their cars, this really only worked on acrylic paint jobs used before the 1980s, whereas nearly all cars built since the age of Knight Rider use two-pack paint that can't be polished in that way.

Megiuar's Scratch Remover X and Mother's Scratch Remover are two products commonly available at most auto parts stores like Supercheap Auto, Repco and Autobarn, and they are designed to fill shallow scratches and other swirl marks that show up as cloudiness in car paint. They cost around the same as a case of beer and can be hand-polished into your car's paintwork.

The big question when it comes to scratch and dent repair is how to fix deep scratches on a car. While some polishes will temporarily fill in the scratch, deeper scratches require the top layers of clear coat to be lightly sanded and then polished to a fine shine.

The steps to deep car paint scratch repair is simple:

  1. Buy a pack of microfibre polishing cloths, a good-quality cutting polish, applicator pads for a buffing wheel, and a good quality wax to seal the job once you're done. Borrow a rotary buffing tool from an experienced friend, and have a friend who is experienced with buffing paint work come over to help you.
  2. Clean the car thoroughly with a soapy wash and make sure all dirt is out of the scratched areas. Then leave it to dry completely in the shade so the area to be buffed doesn't get too hot.
  3. Once the paint is dry use blue-coloured masking tape to mask off any rubber strips or plastic trim near the repair area as these shouldn't get polish on them.
  4. Apply a swirl of cutting compound polish to the buffing pad and lightly rub it over the area you want to buff to spread a base amount of the polish onto the metal.
  5. Start buffing the panel at a slow speed, taking care to keep the buffer moving around the panel one glide at a time. The panel will quickly heat up and it is easy to burn through the paint and, if this happens, your only option to fix it is to pay a smash repair shop to paint that whole panel, which is expensive and time-consuming.
  6. Regularly wipe the panel down with a microfibre towel, checking the condition of the scratches. Once you're happy you can no longer see the scratches apply a coat of wax by hand to seal the repair.
  7. If the scratches remain after buffing you can get high-grade wet/dry sandpaper (ideally 2000-grit) from an auto parts shop and very, very lightly wet-sand the affected area with almost no pressure and a tight swirling motion. Keep the paper wet and use a microfibre towel to clean the area after 10 swirls with the paper to check progress, then rebuff the panel once you're satisfied you've removed the scratches.

If this sounds like far too much work, you can hire a professional mobile detailer to come and buff your car on site for you. (image: Tung Nguyen) If this sounds like far too much work, you can hire a professional mobile detailer to come and buff your car on site for you. (image: Tung Nguyen)

If this sounds like far too much work, you can hire a professional mobile detailer to come and buff your car on site for you. Be warned this can easily cost from several hundred dollars up to several thousand, depending on the condition of your car, the amount of work required, and the quality of the products they use for car paint repair.

If the scratches go right back to primer, or metal, you'll need to paint over the damaged area. Thankfully you can easily source car touch-up paint which is a small container of paint sold to match the original hue. These can be sold as spray cans, or as paint pens that are perfect for paint chip repair.

Spray-painting repairs are often messy and can be difficult to get a neat result as a novice at home, so for small repairs a paint pen is generally preferable. However, only use paint that matches exactly your car's exact paint.

You can find what paint code you need for your car by telling the assistant at the auto parts store the year, make and model of your car and what colour it is, or by Google-searching that information to double-check it. If you're still unsure if the paint is a good match try testing the paint pen by placing a dot in an area you won't easily see, like under a wheelarch or inside the boot.

Scratches, marks and dents in stainless steel requires pro-level repairs, with sanding, polishing and buffing needed to restore the shine. While heavy scratch and dent repair really requires a professional panel beater or someone with a lot of experience fixing dings and scratches, because many of the products are toxic and are difficult to use.